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Neighborhood Spotlight: Palmerton woman rallies kids to help community

Growing up in Slatington, Jennifer Merkel was driven by one key attribute, the desire to help other people. It started with small donations here and there and grew into a much larger passion.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to help people,” Merkel said. “I always dreamed of helping kids and thought that when I got older I would help the homeless.”

Time passed and Merkel, now a Palmerton resident, went from that young dreamer to a mom with a daughter of her own who she wanted to carry that same desire to give back. She used down time, brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic, to start Kids For The Community, a local group helping kids “grasp the joy and love from volunteering in the community and assisting others in need.”

“I was off for a few months at the beginning of the pandemic and I really wanted to get my daughter involved in volunteering and giving back,” Merkel said. “I wanted her to follow in the footsteps of the visions I had when I was younger. I thought, let’s get the kids in together in town and see what we can do.”

Kids For The Community started, as many similar organizations do, small. Merkel launched a Facebook group and posted her first event, a cleanup day in the Palmerton park. It was soon followed by a day in the park making cards for seniors in the community.

“I drew a lot of inspiration from Clare Papay and the Facebook group she had started in Palmerton at the beginning of the pandemic,” Merkel said. “I wanted to do something focused on kids and getting them on the right path when it comes to helping people. We can show them how much good you can do with such a big heart. We did one event, then another, then another, and it has just blossomed.”

During summer concerts in the Palmerton park, Merkel organized a refreshment stand where the kids could sell lemonade and other goodies with the money donated to the Palmerton Pace-Makers organization. One of the biggest volunteer efforts to date, however, was a weeklong toy drive to benefit the Christian Action Council of Palmerton Area Churches.

“We did it five days in a row down at Country Harvest and it was such a tremendous turnout,” Merkel said. “Some days, it was just my daughter Zoey and I, and some days we had 10 to 15 kids. I can’t say enough about the local support we received and I know CACPAC truly appreciates it as well.”

Though school is back in session, Merkel’s group is pushing on stronger than ever. She organized a Hero’s Day at 2 p.m. today at Palmerton Memorial Park, where children can meet local firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, nurses and veterans.

“They are our true heroes, and I think it’s important for our children to get to interact with them,” Merkel said.

Kids For The Community is also hosting a used book sale from Oct. 16 to 18 in front of Little Bombers Daycare and Learning Center in Palmerton. Proceeds will be donated to Raising The House, a non-profit that offers financial assistance to students and families in the Palmerton Area School District.

Merkel’s Facebook group now has more than 150 members, and she hopes the number doesn’t stop there.

“I hope it takes a path similar to Girl Scouts,” she said. “They started really small and now they are this massive organization. We obviously won’t hit those heights because we are community-focused, but I think our kids and our volunteers can have a major impact.”

Nobody knows what the future holds, but with Kids For The Community catching on in Palmerton, Merkel views the forecast as bright.

“I hope it keeps growing,” she said. “The more kids who participate, the more youth we have realizing how it feels and what it means to give back. Ultimately, I want this to be around long after me.”

See tnonline.com for a video of Jennifer Merkel. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS